Monthly Archives: August 2013

Outcomes

There are many occupations that I’ve had to admit would not be suitable for me, given both my personality and the traits that accompany my brain chemistry issues. I’m thinking today that real estate agent is definitely high on this list. I’d simply go nuts. I am going nuts right now, because I am waiting to hear about the latest place we are trying to rent. Our application has gone farther than they usually do, to the point where we’ve been asked/given an opportunity to explain some of what are often deal-breakers, so our hopes are up.

When I’m in a situation like this–when I have done all the footwork I can and the only thing to do is wait–the logical thing is to occupy my mind with something else. Compartmentalize; spend my energy in places where I can do some good at the moment. But if you think I possess a mind that obeys my directives, you must be new to the site.

A few days ago, in What’s That First Step Again?, I wrote about the need for me to apply the 12 steps to this kind of situation and actually try to turn the outcome over to my God. I also wrote about how I’ve been sucking at doing this. So I’m taking a moment, right now, between the back and forth of the phone calls, to acknowledge this need again. I don’t expect myself to go to a state of blissful detachment: of course I am excited and nervous, and of course I will feel frustrated if this all ends up back at square (as well as step) one. But I want to be in a spiritual enough place for these feelings not to control me.

My mind wants to scamper forward with plans and room layouts, or start worrying about deposits and moving. When I try to rein it in, it scampers the other direction and begins its dirge of regrets and if-onlys. How do I make my surrender real? How do I get to that place of trust? I’m trying to be honest with my God about my fears and wants, and I’m trying to be aware that I can’t control everything. As I often do, I’m also retreating to one of the few non-taboo sources of comfort I have: fantasy and science fiction.

In her novel Stormqueen, Marion Zimmer Bradley created a character who’s inspiring me at the moment. Allart Hastur is a nobleman who, like many of his relatives, has inherited genetically bred and mixed psychic powers. Allart has the gift of precognition, but in an unusual form. He can see multiple paths and outcomes at any given time, but without knowing which ones are true or which actions match with a certain outcome. Expected to learn swordsmanship with his peers, he fails miserably because he’s bombarded with images of every possible catastrophic wound or accident. Interacting with people becomes excruciating as he sees betrayal in every embrace and is haunted by calamitous visions of his loved ones dying.

I have a point to all of this. Honest.

The above is Allart’s back story. At the beginning of Stormqueen, Allart has been living in a monastery for several years. There he’s found some peace and learned better control over his fears in the predictable environment. Family matters force him to leave, and he’s thrown into an arranged marriage and political intriguing. Once again he finds himself drowning in visions, but he must function or others will suffer. He makes choices as well as he can, always with just enough precognition to make the choice more tormenting.

My point is that if Allart were here, he’d see my family living happily in that house. And he’d see us living there unhappily. And he’d see us getting rejected tomorrow and being sad. And he’d see us finding another place we like better. And he’d see us failing to find one, giving up and moving into a place we really don’t like. And he’d see a huge earthquake making the whole question pointless.

What goes in in Allart’s head is not so very different from what goes on in mine when my future tripping threatens to paralyze me. He had to learn to take action in the face of constant uncertainty, never being able to escape the presence of death. The strength and focus he uses to take an action anyway, and then move on to the next action, is a quality I need.

It’s later in the day now, and it’s unlikely that we will hear anything until at least tomorrow. I’ll have to try to get a little sleep and tackle tomorrow’s commitments without knowing the outcome yet. I haven’t come up with the perfect way to practice surrender about it, either.

Perfection? Allart doesn’t do perfection. Hopefully, my God doesn’t expect it of me either. But I looked for the place. I applied for the place. I showed up and followed up; I didn’t hide in the monastery while the kingdom disintegrated. I can have some pride in that, and I can (imperfectly) trust that I’ll be able to do it (imperfectly) again if I have to.

Sweater of Shame


I don’t feel shame, I slip into it like an old sweater. That sweater that’s been around forever and is threadbare and holey with age; the one that is comfortable in its familiarity but smells like the back of the closet. I can sense it over my skin; it changes the way I appear in the mirror.

For years I wore that garment more often than I wore anything else. It was hard for me to notice or care what I had on underneath, in fact. That’s been changing in these last years, as I discover ways to take responsibility for my choices without putting myself down constantly. On days like today I notice how much things have changed, because when shame wraps around me it no longer seems quite so familiar.

I’ve been following some threads started by a friend about how the increasingly harsh regulations regarding prescription of narcotic painkillers, and doctors’ reactions to these rules, are impacting the lives of people who need medical pain management. For every person like me who became a full-blown addict, there are many who continue to use the painkillers legitimately. I know many who have been on the same dosage for ten or fifteen years.

Anyway, people are suffering, and some of them are people dear to me. It’s getting worse rapidly: people who move or lose their insurance can’t get a new doctor because entire practices are blacklisting all narcotics patients. Long-term pain patients are having their doses abruptly cut with no justification, and if they protest they are labeled drug seekers. From what I am hearing, this trend is having an especially vicious effect on the 55 and over population. Some are even predicting a wave of suicides as untreated patients, many of whom also battle depression or other mental health issues, succumb to despair at their low quality of life.

So, as I witnessed people sharing their experiences, outrage, worry and fear in comments over several days, I felt a deep regret for the way I contributed to this awful problem. In my addiction, I was a drug seeker. I started out as a legitimate pain patient, and over a period of years I became something else. I don’t know why some people change this way and some don’t. I’m not responsible for the stupid ways the powers that be are responding to the problem, but I am responsible for my past behavior and how it played a small part in creating this situation.

As I read comment after comment over several days, I felt as if I were fading away. I was losing my identity and becoming “other.” One of those addicts, one of those drug seekers ruining things for the innocent. One of “them.” It felt like being at a party with my friends–dressed up, happy, talking confidently–and being pulled aside by police who scrub the makeup from my face, confiscate my shoes in favor of some dingy slippers, and drape my ratty, smelly gray shame sweater over my head as they usher me out.

I tried to let go of these feelings quickly. This issue isn’t about my self-esteem, it’s about the needs of others. But the reactions clung stubbornly, and when I took some quiet time with them I realized, with a burst of sadness, what it was.

For the first time in years, I felt truly ashamed about being an addict. I don’t generally feel ashamed of being one these days: make no mistake, I was terribly ashamed of being a practicing addict, but in recovery I allow myself to feel the dignity of a person who has made changes. Also, the frequent sharing and mutual support in recovery makes addiction not “other” to me anymore. Because I need to, I even find meaning and nobility in our struggles, and I am quite often proud to be a person in recovery.

To have that feeling of dignity stripped away; to see myself as they must see people like me, hurts.

Perhaps it should. That’s an eternal question, one I have considered before and will again: where’s the line between appropriate guilt and toxic shame? It’s fitting that I feel guilt about the wrongs I’ve done. It’s also fitting that I not think well of myself when I specifically consider these things. So where should I stop?

When I chose to try to live, I kind of made an assumption that there’s enough good in me to be worth preserving. Going and staying too deep in shame makes me wonder if I was wrong, and that’s dangerous. On the other hand, I refuse to be someone who flits around being inconsiderate and saying “I can’t afford to feel guilty, so I won’t bother caring when I act like a jerk.”

I don’t know yet what exact forms my ongoing amends to the medical community will take. For now, the best one is for me to work the hell out of my recovery so that I can keep from ever repeating my bad behavior. I’ll also try to let go of the part of my shame that is self-absorbed and practice humility instead: offering myself as I am, and letting others decide what to make of it.

Liebster Award

I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award by the wonderful author of Mended Musings! karenperrycreates has a great message about the ins and outs of conscious recovery, and I identify with her a lot. I hope you’ll all go see her at http://karenperrycreates.com if you never have. I’m told that the Liebster Award highlights blogs that have less than 200 followers (give or take) as a way to recognize new and upcoming blogs and give us a fun way to discover each other. After being nominated, each nominee is requested to:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself
  3. Answer the 11 questions the blogger that nominated you has created for you
  4. Nominate 11 new bloggers
  5. Post 11 questions for your nominees to answer
  6. Let all the bloggers know that they have been nominated; but you cannot nominate the blogger that nominated you.

I’m new to this whole concept, so I apologize if anyone I chose is annoyed by the nomination. It’s certainly not my intention, and as I understand it you are free to ignore it and not respond. But it sounds like fun to pass it on, so I’ll give it a try.

So, 11 random facts about myself:

  1. I helped determine the DNA sequence of the fruit fly.
  2. I still have a security blanket like Linus.
  3. My very first crush was on Linus.
  4. I just signed up for a ballroom dancing class.
  5. Natural childbirth (what was I thinking?)
  6. I have a tiny piece of pencil lead in my left hand.
  7. I’ve never been defeated at Boggle.
  8. I make wonderful scrambled eggs. Hope you like scrambled eggs.
  9. I love to color with crayons.
  10. I cried at the end of “Vincent and the Doctor.”
  11. The coolest nickname I ever had was “Galadriel.”

Answers to the 11 questions I was asked:

Are you a blogger who replies to comments or who doesn’t?
I do reply sometimes, and I’m trying to do it more often. It can depend on what’s going on with me at the time.
What did you have for dinner last night?
A protein shake. Long story.
What did you want to be when you grew up when you were a kid?
An astronomer, Shaun Cassidy’s girlfriend, and Princess Leia.
What’s your favorite TV show?
*hanging head in shame* True Blood.
What is the one food you can’t resist?
Thai noodles, which my doctor doesn’t want me ever to touch again.
What, if any, video games do you play?
Wii games with my daughter, especially Mario Kart. I also love really ancient computer games like NetHack.
Why do you blog about what you blog about?
Because I want to reach people who fall though the cracks, and I want to embrace my own dual/triple/multiple nature in the process.
What is your favorite book?
Are you kidding me? Maybe I’ll eventually get a page up with my top 100 or so, but…right now I’m re-reading “The Mote in God’s Eye.”
Do you watch the news? Why or why not?
Not very much. I’m so prone to getting mentally overstimulated that I have to choose where to spend my strength, so to speak. I get the most critical stuff through osmosis.
Do you believe in coincidences or do you think there’s a reason for why things happen?
I believe in synchronicity as Jung describes it, but I also believe in randomness and “shit happens.” Where I get in trouble is mistaking one for the other.
What did you think of Miley’s performance on the VMAs?
I heard there was one, but I haven’t seen it.

Who I’m nominating: These are some fresh and authentic people that I hope will keep blogging. Check them out.

Tea Time Reflections
http://teatimereflections.wordpress.com

Staticpoetboy
http://www.juliebooth.com

Writings from the Raven’s Desk
http://writingsfromtheravensdesk.wordpress.com

Pages of Grace
http://pagesofgrace.wordpress.com

Manic Medic
http://manicmedicblog.wordpress.com

200 Pounds to Lose
http://200poundstolose.wordpress.com

penni4mythoughts
http://penni4mythoughts.wordpress.com

Tell Me Your Worst Nightmare
http://tellmeyourworstnightmare.wordpress.com

Wonderful Shantelle
http://wonderfulshantelle.wordpress.com

The Duck and the Owl
http://theduckandtheowl.wordpress.com

Stepping Out With An Agoraphobic
http://steppingoutwithanagoraphobic.wordpress.com

 My 11 Questions for the people I nominated:

  1. What was the hardest and/or most annoying book you had to read in school?
  2. What actor or celebrity would you like to interview on your blog?
  3. If you could become instantly fluent in one new language for you, which would you choose?
  4. What animal (corporeal, fictional or spiritual) has been the most important one in your life?
  5. Describe your favorite pair of shoes.
  6. What’s your favorite gemstone or mineral?
  7. Have you ever done karaoke? What did you sing? What would you sing?
  8. Would you rather give up sweet food or spicy food?
  9. What’s your favorite planet? Pluto counts.
  10. Name a fictional character you once wanted to date.
  11. What do you like most about your face?

What’s That First Step Again?

“I have another relapse in me. I don’t know if I have another recovery in me.”
“While I’m in the meeting, my disease is doing push-ups in the parking lot.”
“It hasn’t gotten any better out there.”
“If I fail to plan, I plan to fail.”
“Keep coming back, but better yet, just stay here.”
“Relapse begins a long time before I pick anything up.”
“If I’m not working on my recovery, I’m working on my relapse.”

These are all phrases I have heard more than once from people in 12-step meetings. They’re on my mind because there’s a mini-relapse going on inside my head lately, and I need to deal with it before it grows! I’m learning what people who rack up time in program do: it’s not that we don’t relapse, it’s that we catch the relapses at an earlier stage and treat them before they go far enough to involve actually using again.

I’ve been very worried and fearful about my future, our finances, where we are going to live, the start of the school year…life stuff. My attitude is becoming warped and moving farther away from one of surrender and trust. I’m not accepting rejections from rentals with any serenity; I’m feeling more insecure and anxious each time.

There’s nothing wrong with me having feelings. What’s wrong is that I am not applying the principles of the program to them. I haven’t been taking those specific feelings into my spiritual practice; I’ve been too busy trying to control the outcome. I’ve forgotten that when my attitude is wrong, I’ll find something to worry about no matter what the circumstances, and if my attitude is healthy I can endure chaos better than I think.

How can I be letting my attitude slide while spending time writing about recovery and healing the way I do?  Writing doesn’t make me immune. Pondering emotional and spiritual matters doesn’t either. All of the things I’ve written have been true, and with the Elements series I thought a lot about how they applied to my life. I even used the ideas to get at some feelings I needed to process. But something is missing.

Maybe I’ve been too general and not specific enough lately, even with my spirituality. There’s a difference between the idea of surrender and surrendering the specifics. Have I surrendered where we’re going to live? Have I really? Have I surrendered how long it’ll take to get out of debt, or what the school year will require? Hell, no. Perfect surrender may not be possible, but if I were even halfway to it I wouldn’t be so fearful and obsessive. My prayers haven’t been about “Your will be done, and help me be OK with it,” they’ve been “Please let your will match with my will, because I really need that to happen to be OK.”

It’s time to get real about how unspiritual I’m feeling. Fearfulness about the future. Resentment and rebellion about the years of financial rehab ahead of me. Envy toward those with more resources. Shame about feeling ungrateful when I know there are many with less.  All of these attitudes are contrary to the values I love, but they are here. So what do I do?

This is the part where I talk about my extremely effective and insightful technique for reconnecting to my spirituality. Right. My ego wants me to come up with something like that, but I won’t. Because what I really need to do right now is admit that I don’t know. There isn’t one way, or one guaranteed fix for this. There’s only a place to start. With this scrap of willingness, I can follow various suggestions that have worked for others.

No More Tangles

2009

These are my hands, I tell myself as I watch them move. These are my fingers; they move in response to my thoughts. See, there is something I control. It’s the morning of the first day of fourth grade, and I’m combing my daughter’s hair. I watch my fingers carefully, patiently separating and untangling the wet wheat-colored strands. It feels like a sacred ritual because I am so focused on each tiny movement.

For just a few minutes I am only her mother, doing what a good mother does, and I’m treasuring this brief taste of normality. My senses want to remember it: the golden morning sun tinged pink by her curtains, the texture of her skin as I smooth the hair back from her forehead, even the artificial pear scent of the detangling spray I am using.

When I’m finished, her father will take her to school, and I don’t know how long it will be before I see her again. An hour ago we made a plan, he and I: while he drops her off at school, I will take a shower. I will put on some clean clothes and the first shoes I have worn in a week. And when he comes back, he will drive me to the emergency room. Where they will send me is unknown.

Knowing a change is coming gives me a paradoxical feeling of calm, and yet underneath this my heart aches to know I won’t be picking her up from school today. Someone else will get to hear what she thinks of her new teacher or what her friends did this summer. Someone else will tuck her in and read Harry Potter tonight.

I know I did the right thing when I told her father it was time for me to go. I know I won’t survive another night like last night; the fifth night without a single minute of sleep, the fifth night rocking and praying and gasping for panicked breaths; the fifth night resisting the urge to end it once and for all. So I’m going to go tell the truth, and accept the consequences to my liberty and our finances.

How do I explain to her that I’m leaving her so that I won’t leave her? I can’t. I’ve told her a little about mental illness and why Mommy can get sad or nervous or very tired for no reason. She’s nine, not stupid. She knows the difference between a real expression and a mask pinned precariously onto a flat or despairing reality. She knows when I’m phoning it in, and I respect that. But talking explicitly about the fact that I need help not to commit suicide would be too much sharing, and I respect that too.

We both have a full day ahead of us. While she pledges allegiance to the flag, I’ll be signing consent forms. While she puts on her name tag, I’ll be having my wristband attached. While she runs on the playground during recess, I’ll be pacing that little cubicle in the ER, and while she and her friends talk about Pokemon, the doctors and I will be talking about Depakote.

Her hair is finished now, and they must leave or be late. I tell her how beautiful she looks, and give her a big hug, and say I love her. I hold the front door open as they go through, and as it clicks shut the smile melts from my face. Mechanically, I walk toward the shower. These are my feet, I tell myself.

Headless Princess Leia

She was about three and half inches tall, molded in white plastic except for some peach tones at the hands and face and brown on the iconic double bun. She’d probably be worth a good deal of money to a collector if I had kept her in the box, since she was in the very first run of action figures in this genre. She was my companion, my confidant, my agent, my employee, my captive and my slave.

What you have to understand about me and my Princess Leia action figure is that it was 1977, the year Star Wars came out, and I was a ten-year-old girl. Yes, I am one of those fans for whom Star Wars will always mean Episode IV without the subtitle, the exploding Death Star does not have a ring around it, and Han bloody well shot first.

Don't cheapen my death.

Don’t cheapen my death.

We’d moved to Southern California a little over a year ago, after my two-year-old brother died in a car accident. My family wasn’t coping well, and my style of not coping well was near-complete shutdown. We moved several times within months and were homeless for a short time; this made me withdraw even more. Always inclined to live mostly in my imagination, I was taking it to a new extreme. Socially isolated did not begin to cover it.

That’s where I was when Star Wars found me and provided a new forum for my imagination. More than that, it gave me a feeling of normalcy for the first time because when we got an apartment, the kids in my new neighborhood and I were obsessed with the same thing. I began to join in the conversations and games when Star Wars was the theme, because I knew I could hold my own. I read the novelization until I could practically recite it, and I knew every incongruity (example: in the final battle, Luke’s call sign is Red Five in the movie but Blue Five in the book.) I fractured a bone in my foot playing “Luke and Leia Swing Across the Chasm” at a nearby construction site.

Though I found all the characters compelling, down to and including Grand Moff Tarkin (what the hell is a Moff, anyway, and are there petite and medium ones out there?) Leia was my favorite and my role model. The damsel in non-distress, who could think her way out of a firefight and have enough mental energy left for a sarcastic putdown. Brave enough to sit in that black cell, after being at the mercy of Darth Vader and that sinister hypo-bearing sphere, and still greet the arrival of a strange soldier with “Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?” and not “Please, don’t hurt me.”

My games with toy Leia were solitary ones. I’d confine her in small dark places and reenact her captivity, or create a primitive version of fan fiction by engineering hypothetical scenes from before or after the movie, not to mention creepy scenes about the interrogation that in no way betray any power-exchange quirks in my developing tastes. But Leia’s most frequent role was that of a field agent, being sent on dangerous missions and returning with vital intelligence.

It's gravel!

It’s gravel!

Her destination: usually the roof of the neighboring apartment building, accessed by a vigorous throw from my bedroom window. Her mission: explore, defeat any enemies encountered, and return. Her protection: a loop of dirty string tied around her waist, by which she would be hauled back when I got bored. Naturally, she got more than a little banged up as her career progressed.

I was a stern taskmistress. Sometimes Leia didn’t feel ready to go. I would encourage her and remind her of her duty, and in the end I sent her whether she was ready or not. I remember those conversations, and I wonder now who I was really talking to when I gave her those orders. Was I using her as a symbol of the courage I wanted to have? Were her fears linked to my fears of going to school? I’d convinced myself that there was no point in talking to any adults about anything; that it was up to me to deal with a mean teacher or a bullying student or the guy who talked obscenely to me in class. So when I talked to Leia, was I really saying to a part of myself, “I know it’s scary out there, but you have to go. There’s nothing to be done about it, so get out there.”

One day, after a long and illustrious run of missions, Leia’s head came off while I was trying to tug the loop of string up to be retied. I tried to glue it back on, but that kind of plastic is tricky. It was obvious even to me that her head wouldn’t survive another excursion, so there was only one thing to do…I buried her tiny body and head at the base of a tree in front of the apartment building. The funeral was quite moving.  Looking back at it, I’m surprised that I didn’t make up a dramatic story about Leia’s last mission and incorporate a rationale for her decapitation into it. Perhaps I felt the rightness of her end being the result not of one fatal mission but of too many.

Thank you, little plastic Leia. Thank you for hurtling through the air tied to a string, being dragged through gravel, and smacking repeatedly into stucco walls on your return journeys. Thanks for being my friend. If I had you today–with your head still on–I’d wash off your smudged face and let you rest for a while. I’d take you to some different places instead of dragging you over the same dreary gravel-covered roof.

And if I could, I’d keep the little girl who owned you safe too.

Elements of Recovery: Spirit

Writing about the first four Elements makes several things clear to me: I can’t do without any of them, each one is precious in specific ways, and each one is dangerous when it gets out of proportion or is used wrongly. I have this image of myself as a chef adding tiny bits of ingredients to a sauce; tasting and titrating until the mix suits my sensitive palate.

The problem with this visual is that for most of my life, my idea of cooking has been finding the can opener and the plastic spoon for the Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee ravioli. How the hell can I navigate my recovery, manage my mental and physical health, raise my child, and attempt to have relationships while constantly performing this delicate task on a mix that is always changing?

I have to have help for that, and that’s where Spirit comes in. Something that knows more than my conscious mind knows, something that has power I don’t understand. There are so many ways to conceptualize Spirit, and a real exploration of them is beyond the scope of today’s work. I certainly haven’t figured out one right way to think about it. Spirit is by its nature mysterious; I know I’m on the right track when I realize that my words are totally inadequate. But since I’ve been talking about the Elements in relation to recovery, let me focus on the role Spirit and spirituality play in recovery-focused groups.

When we seek help for addictive behavior that we’ve lost the power to control, we’d probably find it pretty odd if someone responded by saying “Congratulations! You’ve just become a spiritual seeker! How does it feel?” We didn’t come here for enlightenment, we just want to stop hurting. We begin as the least likely of pilgrims, yet we often end up seeking a source of Spirit to help us. Seeking it again and again; seeking it in other ways if the first ones stopped working.

People who consider working a twelve-step program of recovery are often turned off by the references to a power greater than ourselves, or the outright references to God, in the twelve steps and in some literature. It’s a large source of controversy and misunderstanding, and for many people seeking recovery it starts out as–and sometimes remains–a deal-breaker. “Aha, here’s the catch,” we say. “These people offer hope, they tell me I can be free of this obsession, that I don’t have to die…IF I do this religious stuff. Sure, they say my higher power can be whatever I want it to, but I’m no fool…it says G-O-D right there on those posters.”

It’s unfortunate that the historical circumstances of the steps’ evolution resulted in this bias. I feel certain that if the program had been invented today, the ideas would have been expressed in much more general and inclusive language. I choose to overlook the terms that feel awkward to me and remain centered in the spiritual concepts of the steps. It’s not a perfect path, but I believe it shares basic elements with most spiritual paths. For me, it’s working well now to share the language of such a path with people whose need for it comes from a place similar to my own.

Why? Why this need for humility, for self-examination, for change? Why can’t I just do what makes sense? Why can’t education and group support give me all I need to keep from destructive behavior? I don’t know, but when it comes to my own survival I’m tired of beating my head against the wall. If Spirit is what it’s going to take, bring it on. My obsession is illogical; perhaps an illogical solution is what I need.

The work I do on myself in the program is designed to lower the barriers between myself and whatever Spirit is. When I let Spirit in, it can help me balance the other Elements intuitively. It creates a matrix within which they can float, bobbing into and out of view. I can take care of responsibilities with the right provision for rest and fun, or make transitions between anger and sadness quickly yet with respectful attention to both. If I feel connected to Spirit, I’m not afraid of anything else I feel. I don’t have that fear that the scattered parts of me will fly in all directions and never come together again.